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Thursday, June 5, 2008
Aomori G8 talks face nuclear-energy nudge
OSAKA — With oil hovering at around $130 a barrel and pressure growing on the world's major greenhouse gas emitters to forge a new climate change treaty from 2012, global energy security and fast-tracking "clean and green" alternatives to fossil fuels are expected to dominate this weekend's Group of Eight energy minister meeting in Aomori.
"Japan has the world's highest renewable energy technologies. At the G8 energy ministers' meeting, we hope to reconfirm cooperation for the development and introduction of revolutionary new alternate energy technologies by developed countries," trade minister Akira Amari said at a press conference last week.
Like the highly public, G20-sponsored meeting on climate change, clean energy and sustainable development that was held in March in Chiba and drew former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the less prominent ministers gathering in Aomori will focus on new nonfossil-fuel technologies as a way to combat climate change and reduce the world's appetite for oil.
Ministers are expected to easily agree on the need for more investment in wind, solar, biomass and hydrogen technologies.
Japan also wants to use the gathering in Aomori Prefecture, where a controversial facility to reprocess spent nuclear fuel is being built at Rokkasho, for the tougher task of forging a G8 consensus to support a new generation of nuclear plants in both developed and developing countries.
At the G8 energy ministers' meeting in Moscow in 2006, the participants agreed coal, oil and natural gas would remain the primary basis of the world energy industry until at least 2050. To guard against a disruption in fossil fuel supplies, the ministers called for diversification of energy resources, wider use of renewable and alternative energies, and use of innovative, and especially low-carbon, technologies. They also called for more atomic power.
"For those countries that wish, wide-scale development of safe and secure nuclear energy is crucial for long-term, environmentally sustainable diversification of energy supply," said the ministers' statement at the Moscow meeting.
At a meeting between Japanese and French nuclear power officials in Kyoto last July, both sides expressed hope that the Japanese government, as host of this year's G8 meetings, would work further to convince the seven other members to commit more to investing in nuclear power, especially in countries outside the G8.
There is a growing belief among G8 members and internationally that nuclear power is a green technology that will help all countries reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and meet reduction targets that may be introduced by December 2009, when a U.N. meeting on climate change in Copenhagen is expected to come up with a basic agreement for a post-Kyoto Protocol treaty on the environment. The Kyoto treaty expires in 2012.
To combat climate change, many developed nations over the past few years have either revived atomic power programs that had been on hold or in decline during the 1980s and 1990s, or are planning to develop new ones. Meanwhile, newly developing economies with rising emissions, including China and India, are rushing to build new power plants.
While many G8 nations and developing economies tout nuclear power as a green technology, the problems associated with running atomic plants remain, and many nuclear experts warn they are unlikely to replace plants that burn fossil fuels.
Aileen Mioko Smith, an antinuclear activist with Kyoto-based Green Action, calls nuclear power an unreliable ally in the fight against global warming.
"Earthquakes, scandals and accidents can easily shut down nuclear power plants. If a plant goes down, fossil-fuel-powered plants must kick in, spiking greenhouse emissions and thus negating any gains that might have been made in reducing emissions through nuclear power," Smith said.
"This is exactly what happened last July, after the Kashiwazaki earthquake," Smith said, referring to the quake that hit Niigata Prefecture and forced Tokyo Electric Power Co. to suspend operations at the huge Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear plant.
Japan will use the Aomori meeting, at which representatives from China, India and South Korea will also attend, as a showcase for new renewable technologies like wind turbines and hybrid cars and to call for greater energy-efficiency in fossil fuel sectors.
But it will attempt to persuade other G8 members that increased investment in what it claims is a new generation of safer, cleaner and more reliable nuclear technology that has been developed by Japanese firms will reduce the risk of shutdowns and thus the need to provide power by burning fossil fuels in conventional plants while an atomic plant is closed.